Betony Executive Chef Bryce Shuman grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and from a young age was exposed to high- quality food. His mother, a cultural anthropologist with a degree in nutrition, was an ambitious cook who insisted he help out in the kitchen and step up to the plate to recreate dishes such as his dad’s revered puttanesca recipe. When the family lived abroad for long stretches in places as diverse as the jungles of Costa Rica and the Arctic as part of his mother’s anthropological research, they would eat local, which is how Bryce tried raw caribou and seal at an age when his peers were embracing Fruit Loops.
In May 2013, Bryce opened Betony with fellow former Eleven Madison Park colleague, Eamon Rockey (General Manager). At Betony, Bryce’s menu is inspired by familiar flavors of food he loves presented in a distinctly modern way. In its first year in business the restaurant received three stars from The New York Times, was named Esquire’s “Restaurant of the Year” and was a James Beard Foundation finalist for “Best New Restaurant” in the country. In March 2015 Chef Shuman was named a 2015 Food & Wine “Best New Chef.”
How did you get into the culinary industry?
Growing up, I always enjoyed cooking and loved to eat. I started out washing dishes at a restaurant in eastern North Carolina and one thing led to another. I’ve always loved the fast pace and camaraderie of restaurants.
Tell us about Betony. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the restaurant?
Betony is on 57th street between 5th and 6th Aves. in Manhattan. Eamon Rockey (the General Manager) and I wanted to create a place that was refined but fun and inviting, too, with the highest quality food, décor and service.
(Photo Credit: Alyx Cullen)
What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to Betony's success?
We work with a lot of local famers, brewers, distillers, craftsman and highly respected regional and national suppliers. Examples include Zaid Kurdieh from Norwich Meadows Farm (produce), Morse Pitts from Windfall Farms (produce), Jordan Elkin and Brian McGovern from Homarus (lobsters), Michael Rojas from Urbani (truffles), and like Ed Raven and Chris Prout from Greenpoint Beer & Ale Company and Brouwerij Lane. Our great potter is Jane Herold and our friend Nathan Rawlinson has contributed photography.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
Honestly, I don’t try to capitalize on trends, I aspire to set them.
Set high goals, be super focused, and push yourself and colleagues as hard as you can while also being honest and kind.
(Photo Credit: Signe Birck)
Your greatest success as Proprietor of Betony? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
My greatest successes would be training our line cooks to be leaders in the kitchen and being named a 2015 Food & Wine “Best New Chef.” Like most businesses, we’ve had too many challenges to count; resiliency is key.
Your advice to an aspiring restauranteur/chef?
Play to your strengths, work on your weaknesses, and expect challenges every day.
(Photo Credit: Jessica Chou)
Describe the ideal experience at Betony.
The ideal experience is one not just enjoyed in the moment but also one that leaves lasting memories.
How important is architecture/design to the success of Betony?
Incredibly important; the environment sets the tone for the meal.
How do you motivate your employees?
By setting an example. You share your goals and aspirations and constantly give them more work than they have time to do. Then, push them to get it done, but work alongside them, too, just as hard. It’s like a personal trainer -- you have to be a coach, but also set standards and use discipline.
(Photo Credit: Evan Barbour)
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
I think almost any fruit or vegetable can be the greatest food on the planet at its right moment or with a perfect preparation, so it’s hard for me to choose just one. For example, Tri-Star strawberries at the height of their season are phenomenal. To drink, a really great chamomile tea.
What literature is on your bed stand?
“Relae: A Book of Ideas” by chef Christian F. Puglisi and “Warlock” by Oakley Hall.
Role model - business and personal?
In business, chefs Stuart Brioza (State Bird Provisions/The Progress) and Daniel Humm (Eleven Madison Park/The NoMad); in the personal sphere, my closest friends.
(Photo Credit: Evan Barbour)
Besides my incredible wife, Dubstep, Electro, Jazz records, my guitar and pickles.
Favorite travel destination?
St. John. I love that nearly the whole island is protected and feels isolated. The town of Coral Bay there is a fantastic place to reset.
What's next for Betony?
We just introduced our first tasting menu and are testing new techniques and ingredients for the summer menu.
Bryce’s hospitality career started modestly enough in 2001, as a dishwasher at Mesh Café in Greenville, North Carolina, where he was quickly promoted to chef de cuisine. It was at Mesh that he met a waitress, Jen, who would later become his wife.
In 2003 he moved to San Francisco to enroll in the California Culinary Academy (CCA), while working nights on the line at Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio. There, Bryce met chef Jack Yoss, an early mentor, who taught him many kitchen skills, including how to man a giant charcoal grill, which became his favorite station.
After graduation, Bryce went to work at Rubicon in San Francisco, where he credits then Executive Chef Stuart Brioza and his wife, Pastry Chef Nicole Krasinski, for being exemplary leaders. Stuart completely debunked the stereotype of the great chef as screaming madman, calmly and patiently teaching Bryce how to break down a whole snapper or make consommé, skills that can only really be learned on the job through repeated trial and error. Stuart also ignited Bryce’s passion for the farmers market and local cuisine. Nicole, an equally bright light, showed Bryce how to gracefully blur the lines between salty and sweet, and how to maintain a sunny outlook in the midst of a stressful service.
Upon returning from a long trip to Europe to work and dine in top restaurants, Bryce moved back to the East Coast in 2007. After trailing at a number of elite NYC restaurants, Bryce settled on Eleven Madison Park based on Chef Daniel Humm’s leadership and the kitchen’s dynamic atmosphere.
At Eleven Madison Park, Bryce worked alongside Chef Humm for six years, and credits him for pushing him harder than anyone to achieve his full potential. Over the course of his time there, Bryce worked every station and every Sous Chef position and was eventually promoted to Executive Sous Chef. He worked beside Chef Humm when the restaurant garnered a four-star review from The New York Times, three-star review from Michelin, and was ranked 10th in San Pellegrino’s guide to The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, among many other accolades. Bryce also accompanied Chef Humm on trips abroad to collaborate with other chefs and was responsible for the testing and editing of the recipes in Chef Humm’s cookbooks.
When not at Betony, Bryce enjoys playing blues guitar, snapping photos with his Polaroid Reporter SE, visiting art galleries with his wife, enjoying the company of his newborn daughter Emilia, and annoying his cats.
(Photo Credit: Signe Birck)